About a week and a half ago, I posted an entry entitled The Universal Church, Landmarkism, and John Dagg. One of the people who commented was Paul Grabill. I was so interested in what he had to share regarding the concept of the "City Church," which I believe relates in some very practical ways to the general theme of this blog, unity in the Body of Christ, that I invited Paul to write a guest post elaborating a bit more on this very important concept. What follows is Paul's post, which I have just received. I invite you to consider carefully what Paul is saying here, and to leave whatever comments you see fit...
I'm sorry that I have not gotten back to you sooner. I wanted to share something that was both well thought through and succinct. I'm not sure that I achieved that.:)
Thank you so much for the opportunity to share with you more about what is dear to my heart--and I believe the heart of the Lord--visible unity (not uniformity) among born-again believers.
As I briefly shared before, I believe the optimal and most biblical manifestation of that unity is what I will call the "
Let me lay out why:
First, here are my theological assumptions:
1. Our ultimate authority is Scripture--adding nothing and taking nothing away. Therefore, we must draw our ecclesiology from the New Testament, taking relevant passages at face value (as literal as possible). One cannot exegete from tradition or experience. Tradition (no matter how long the span of time) and experience (no matter how broadly shared) must submit to the clear meaning of the Word of God.
2. The Lordship of Jesus Christ as Head of His Church. What He wants is what we should want; nothing more, nothing less.
3. A commitment to the fundamentals of the faith, but latitude in interpretation on non-essentials.
4. One biblical truth cannot be sacrificed for another. For instance, we don't believe in the resurrection of our Lord less because we believe in the virgin birth. Some have established unity vs. truth as a false dichotomy. Both must be embraced. In fact, a commitment to biblical unity actually forces us to decide what are the core essentials of the faith. However, if seemingly everything is an essential/fundamental, then nothing is. When the list of fundamentals gets longer and longer, at some point the meaning of the word 'fundamental' is logically obliterated.
5. The Church Universal is called by Christ to be missional by definitiion. We should all think like missionaries. (I am a missionary to
I think these are assumptions broadly shared in the evangelical community. However, our practice often does not match up with our declared assumptions.
To illustrate, let me address two key passages.
It seems transparently clear to me that John speaks (1) of visible unity, i.e., "...that the world may know..." and (2) clearly expresses the heartfelt prayer and desire of the one we call Lord. I don't see any way that we can call Jesus "Lord" and ignore what is in his only extended canonical prayer. What do I mean by that? Well, Jesus must have prayed thousands of prayers, and a few of His brief ones are recorded, but this is the *only* extended prayer in our canon. Why? Because we are supposed to read what He wants. If this is not a priority for us, how can we call ourselves followers of Christ, let alone Biblical Christians?
It also seems transparently clear to me that 1 Corinthians 1 and 3 speak precisely against the denominational paradigm in which we presently minister. Of course, we have expanded the categories far beyond "Paul, Cephas, Apollos, and Christ." We have Luther, Wesley, all manner of Calvinists, et. al. And it's not just in one city that we have such divisions--it's in virtually every city. In fact, we have hundreds, if not thousands, of denominational (literally, using a name) networks that form part of the Body of Christ, but often believe themselves to have all or most of the Truth. Well, there are only two mathematical possibilities of how many denominations "have it all together." It's either one or none. And, I believe I know the answer: it's none. We all have part, but not the whole.
Now, it probably should be said that denominations (a phenomenon largely created by church/state separation in
Some get around this by arguing that they are *the one* that has it all together. Landmark Baptists aren't the only ones that make that claim, as sincere a claim as it may be. Roman Catholics and others do the same.
So, how we move off of dead center and establish some semblance of visible unity as our Lord desires?
Here are some proposed pathways to Christian unity:
1. Institutional mergers.
2. Councils of Churches/denominations on national or international scales.
3. Local unity guided by the Holy Spirit.
As you have guessed, I believe the third is the only workable and biblical solution.
Remember that one of my assumptions is that the Church should always be missional. I believe common mission unites. We see that in the military, don't we? Paul and his ministry partners may have had disagreements and each may have had more in common with someone in
Therefore, it seems to me, that I have more in common with born-again pastors who wish to see State College, PA reached for Jesus than I do with, say, a pastor of my own denomination in Southern California. That perspective has led me and others to commit considerable time to not only praying, working and worshipping together, but to begin to knit hearts and to hold each other accountable in deeper ways than denominations are able (because of geographical distance). At the same time, we don't believe in uniformity, so we believe each congregation should have freedom to express their own way of worship and teaching on secondary and tertiary matters.
So, why am I still part of a denomination if I think that they aren't biblical? Because I don't believe in non-accountability. So, until a new wineskin (such as the "
One other matter of note: I have mentioned in an earlier comment that, Biblically, the preeminent use of the word "Church" implied only one "Church" in each city--the
So, as you can see, I have no interest in national/international ecumenical organizations, in sacrificing biblical essentials for false unity or in denominational mergers. What I am interested in is simply this: Pleasing the Lord. I am committed to an incremental, Spirit-led approach that does not seek to deconstruct what we already have until something better emerges (no, this is not part of the Emergent movement:)).
If you have any questions, David, I'll be happy to take my best shot at them.
Blessings on you and yours!
Paul GrabillState College, PA